What do you get when you combine an explosive ground game with shock-and-awe-capable special teams, a grinder of an offensive line and a defense that makes plays when it has to?
You get a Wheeling football team that is 3-3, has won 2 in row, is 2-0 in the Mid-Suburban East and is on the cusp of being a playoff team after Friday night's 28-14 win at Elk Grove.
"We're just executing the way we're supposed to," said multi-purpose back Jason Shannon, whose 70-yard touchdown run in the second quarter made it 13-0 and put Wheeling in control of what had been a tight game to that point. His 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, on the play after Elk Grove scored to make it 20-7, changed the game entirely.
The Wildcats saw something in Elk Grove's kickoff strategy and took advantage. Shannon was not touched on the play (and not too many other times either) in gaining 112 yards on 11 carries. His 70-yard bolt was a one-play drive after the Cats defense delivered. It was Shannon again, in this case denying Marquis Friend, forcing an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs after a 10-play, five-plus minute drive by the Grens (0-6, 0-2), who played better than the score would indicate.
Shannon dished all the reason for his success, and that of quarterback Jalen Dennis (17 carries, 119 yards, 2 TDs) to the offensive line of Antonio Uriogstige, Carlos Martinez, Robert Nerke and Nate Dirkes, all juniors. "They were outstanding," Shannon said.
But Elk Grove challenged the Cats, taking advantage of a Genio Hyppolite pick to score on a 6-yard drive, Hyppolite doing the honors from a yard out. He scored again on a 4-yard run to cap a 14-play, 67-yard drive that ate six minutes in the third quarter, well guided by Tyler Selvig's gutty quarterbacking.
But the Grens couldn't sustain other opportunities, missing a field goal after a Jordan Villa pick, and turning the ball over on downs twice in the red zone. Key penalties hurt throughout and cost the Grens field position.
"You're not going to win with that many penalties," said Elk Grove coach John Sigmund, whose team had more inopportune penalties than quantity thereof.
"They're a well-coached football team," he said in praise of Brent Pearlman. The Wildcats' head man admitted he's still trying to fit his team into what he called the right "framework."
"We've got to play to our potential," he said. "There were some nice plays when we needed them," he noted, especially, defensively, like the two picks by Dennis to thwart Elk Grove scoring opportunities.
"This is definitely a playoff team," Shannon asserted. "I believe in us."
Elk Grove took the opportunity to honor on an amazing streak of longevity as the public address man for Grens football. The Vin Scully of Mid-Suburban League football, Grams has not missed an Elk Grove home in the school's 50-year history.